And so it goes …
“And so it goes …” If you’ve read the Kurt Vonnegut book “Slaughterhouse-Five,” you’ll recognize the phrase. It’s in there 102 times. With repetition, the meaning became brutally cynical. It’s about resignation, about resigning oneself to the inevitable.Vonnegut used the phrase whenever he mentioned death – like the deaths of 132,000 civilians from the firebombing of the German city of Dresden at the end of World War II. Vonnegut was there as a prisoner of war. He survived miraculously in a subterranean slaughterhouse in the middle of the flame-gutted city.Vonnegut, who died last month, wrote that the Germans put him to work excavating corpses from Dresden. He referred to himself as a “corpse miner.” He described underground vaults where corpses were sitting on long benches. He described schoolgirls who were boiled alive in a water tank during the incendiary attack. Vonnegut described the conflagration as the work of his countrymen, American pilots who flew the planes, dropped the bombs and ignited the raging inferno that fed on human fuel.The war in Europe was nearly over when Dresden was destroyed. The bombing had little tactical purpose, other than psychological. Some say it was for vengeance, punishing the Germans for what their countrymen had done during the war. And so it goes …Vonnegut’s phrase is invoked today like a bitter mantra for what occurs in Iraq: for bombs that scatter body parts, for Marines who slaughter civilians. And so it goes … It is invoked during the Sixth Great Extinction of nature, where species are being wiped out in untold numbers. And so it goes …”I am afraid to go out in the sun now because of the holes in the ozone. I am afraid to breathe the air because I don’t know what chemicals are in it. I used to go fishing with my dad until just a few years ago we found the fish full of cancers. And now we hear about animals and plants going extinct every day – vanishing forever.”These are the words of Severn Suzuki, who was 13 when she spoke them at the 1992 Rio Conference. Severn challenged adults to address our slaughter of the living world: “At school, even in kindergarten, you teach us to behave in the world. You teach us: not to fight with others, to work things out, to respect others, to clean up our mess, not to hurt other creatures, to share – not be greedy. Then why do you go out and do the things you tell us not to do?”The Sixth Great Extinction is decimating species at more than 100 times the “background” rate at which nature can replace them with new species. Science tells “a haunting tale of unchecked, unaddressed and accelerating biocide … that will lead to the extinction of half of all plant and animal species by the year 2100,” reports Mother Jones.In “Slaughterhouse-Five,” Vonnegut runs a war movie backward: The bombs rise up, healing a devastated landscape. The bombers roar back to their bases as the wounds of their pilots and crews heal. Back in the states, women disassemble the bombs and airplanes, their parts returned to the earth as raw materials. Civilization reverts to Eden.Reverse the settlement trends of the U.S., Vonnegut-style, and see the repair of ecosystems; the mending of mountains, valleys and plains; the return of bison herds, indigenous peoples and biodiversity; the cleaning of air and water; the disappearance of acid rain and global warming; the elimination of sprawl and population crowding; the reversal of wars; the deconstruction of cities, dams and power plants; the healing of clear-cuts and strip mines; the removal of invasive species; the freeing of African slaves; and, finally, the disassembly of Jamestown and the departure of sailing ships for England as Pocahontas waves goodbye to John Smith.But there is no easy reversal. So we face global warming without the concern necessary for a groundswell of public opinion to reverse CO2 emissions. We wage war in Iraq without an exit strategy. We face species extinctions without even a national dialogue on the subject. We blunder along with resignation. “And so it goes …”Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.
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My first step onto the natural lake ice is tentative as I launch off on a thin, stainless-steel blade. Will the ice support me? Will I go plummeting through into a hypothermic bath?